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Election fever in Macedonia

5 January 1999

On November 1, 1998, the coalition of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Alternative (DA) won the majority of seats in the Macedonian parliament, replacing the former government of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) after six years in office. The political representatives of Macedonian Roma had little luck in this year's round — the only Romani political party which succeeded on its way to parliament was the Alliance of Roma (Sojuz Romi) which won one seat, to be held by Mr Amdi Bajram, a Romani businessman from Skopje. Mr Bajram was one of two Roma in the previous parliament and he was reportedly insulted on racial grounds by an ethnic Macedonian MP during a session.

Complaints of irregularities immediately followed the opposition's victory — in their November report on the Macedonian elections, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group cited allegations of party thugs from both camps intimidating voters in and around polling stations. Roma were especially vulnerable to political abuse. The ERRC was told that in some towns Roma were offered money, flour and firewood, and promised improved infrastructure if they voted for SDSM. Some Roma living in the Polacki Pat settlement in the town of Kočani, eastern Macedonia, reportedly even had their polling cards taken away, in order to make sure that they would vote for the same party. In Štip, Ms Enise Demirova from the Romani organisation and radio station Čerenja told the ERRC that in late October she and her husband were offered money and employment by a local businessman running for election, in exchange for releasing only his statements and ignoring the statements of his opponents in their programme. The same man had previously refused to hire any of the twenty Romany women who applied for some of the sixty advertised vacancies in the factory he owns in July 1998. After the couple refused this form of co-operation, the politician allegedly responded by verbally attacking them on local TV.

One day before the second round of elections, Mr Sabri Jašarovski, a 37-year-old Rom from Štip, was physically attacked at his work place on political grounds by an ethnic Macedonian. Mr Jašarovski is disabled and works part-time in the state-run Alumina tin factory in Štip. In a testimony given to the Štip-based Association for Roma Rights Protection (ARRP), he said that on October 30, Mr Vančo Iliev, his co-worker and a member of the SDSM, said in a conversation that his party would stay in power and then "break the legs" of Roma who were allegedly all going to vote for the opposition. Mr Iliev went on further to directly threaten Mr Jašarovski with physical violence unless he voted for SDSM, and when the latter said he would report it to the media, Mr Iliev began hitting the Rom in the head and kicking him with his feet. The medical certificate issued to Mr Jašarovski by a factory doctor after the incident recorded contusion of the head and both thighs, and a broken lower lip. Mr Jašarovski was sent to the local hospital where he immediately reported to the nurse, but nevertheless left after spending two hours waiting in vain for a surgeon who was supposed to examine him. The ARRP believe that the reason is that, in the factory doctor's note, the injury was recorded as a consequence of a fight, and local doctors are reportedly reluctant to provide medical certificates in such cases and thus get involved in police-related procedures. The ironic outcome of the incident was that Mr Jašarovski was fined 15% of his salary for involvement in an incident on factory premises. The ARRP lawyer filed a complaint against the factory authorities on behalf of Mr Jašarovski - they won the case in December, and Mr Jašarovski will receive 10,000 denars (about 200 USD) in compensation.

Another case of politically motivated violence against Roma occurred on the election day itself, in Kočani. Mr Raif Arifov (32) told the ERRC that on the morning of November 1, after he cast his vote in the local polling station, he went to the centre of the town, where he was approached by three non-Romani men whom he knew as members of SDSM. The men asked him about his vote, and on hearing that Mr Arifov voted for the opposition one of the men hit him twice, and threatened him with more violence if Mr Arifov did not vote for SDSM in the future. A similar situation occurred in the evening, also in the town centre, when some SDSM activists recognised Mr Arifov and began to verbally abuse him on the grounds of his political views and forced him to leave the spot. Soon a police van arrived, yet Mr Arifov was the only person taken to the police station. When he complained of this to a police officer and added that he was beaten in the morning, the officer called him a Gypsy and said that he would beat him unless he stopped talking. Mr Arifov was subsequently released.

It should be noted that a large number of Roma in Macedonia generally may not vote because they do not have Macedonian citizenship. In March 1997 the Macedonian government reported to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that 4,356 Roma were stateless, and that the status of a further 7,407 Roma was "unknown". One year later, the government reduced the number of stateless persons of all ethnicities in Macedonia to a mere 5,180. The ERRC's field research indicated that, with respect to Roma, these figures are implausibly low (see ERRC report A Pleasant Fiction: The Human Rights Situation of Roma in Macedonia). (ARRP, Čerenja, ERRC, International Crisis Group)

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